Florida Gators defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was unsure of himself, learning a new system and carrying a few extra pounds last season as a freshman.
He also would make as many plays during the season's final two months as any Gators' defender besides first-team All-America Matt Elam and likely top-5 draft pick Sharrif Floyd.
Now a sophomore, Fowler is ready for to take the next step in 2013.
"There's a lot of high expectations," he said. "I'm looking forward to living up to them."
The talent of Fowler, a five-star recruit out of St. Petersburg Lakewood, was obvious last season. But he continues to improve his conditioning, strength and film study habits this offseason as he works at end and Buck linebacker - a pass-rushing position.
Speaking Tuesday to the media for the first time since he arrived in Gainesville (freshman are restricted from interviews), the 6-foot-3 Fowler said he has slimmed down to 265 pounds - from his listed weight of 277 - to improve his stamina and quickness. He also had added muscle to his upper body to improve his ability to shed blockers.
"When I first started playing I was a little slow because I didn't know all the plays. I was scared for Coach Muschamp to get on me and things like that," Fowler said. "I really wasn't able to play fast and then towards the South Carolina game, I started to go in and watch a lot of film trying to get better. Studying more and that's when I was able to play fast, because I knew everything and I had no worries or doubts.
"So, that's when I really started to play fast and make all of my plays."
Fowler had two tackles, including one for loss, against the Gamecocks and four tackles a week later in a loss to Georgia.
Fowler would go on to have 13 tackles, including 5 1/2 for loss, during the Gators' final five games. He finished the season with him 30 tackles, including 8 1/2 for loss - third on the team to Floyd (13) and Elam (12).
But Fowler is just beginning.
Coach Will Muschamp said Fowler and fellow sophomore Jonathan Bullard - another impact freshman along with linebacker Antonio Morrison - have a hunger for information.
"Dante walks up to me every single day and says, 'What can I do to get better?'" Muschamp said Tuesday. "And so it starts, to me, from a maturity standpoint of understanding what it takes to be successful. Because of a lot of guys they were a dominant player in high school, come to college and they've never had to work hard.
"They've never had to watch extra film. They've never had to put in the extra things to be successful. And that's what those guys do. They work extremely hard at being good football players."
A college player often makes his most significant improvement between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
As he prepares for his first spring game, Fowler seems to be right on schedule.
"I can feel it," he said. "I feel really good getting my freshman year under my belt, playing the amount of reps I did and stuff, getting a lot of experience. I feel really good about that."Email Edgar Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Swamp Things blog at www.orlandosentinel.com/swampthings. Follow our UF coverage on Twitter @osgators.